"What's stupid, Mom?"
"This," she says. "All of this is stupid."
And I have to say I agree with her. There we were crammed into her room with her personal caregiver in the skilled-nursing facility where she was stuck for two months. My father, to whom she'd been married for 68 years, had died in February at the age of 90. My 88-year-old mother had come down with shingles in March and, weakened by the virus, fell and broke her hip in April. My brothers and I were now tag teaming to be on hand to keep her spirits up. Despite our best efforts, it felt pretty stupid.
Even before her latest fall, even before my father's death, it had been fairly stupid. My deaf, nearly blind father, stressed out by the demands of living in the modern world—bills, medical forms, scam mail, which he pored over with a hand magnifier in front of his thick glasses—would accuse my mother, who was already hobbled by earlier falls and a stroke that addled her brain and robbed her of useful language, of misplacing a letter or bank statement or checkbook. Unfairly accused, and never one to sit still for insults, she would punish him by refusing to speak to him. Not that her speech was entirely intelligible when she did speak to him. It would have been funny if they hadn't been my parents.
By the time doctors told my father that only extreme interventions could prolong his life, he was practically racing toward death with open arms. He'd had enough—not of my mother but of a life that was largely burdensome. Tragically, he and my mother had been engaged in one of their protracted skirmishes when he breathed his last. He had been begging her for forgiveness, and she had been withholding it. Then he died. She had the last word—or really the last silence—but regret is what she is left with now. So I'm pretty sure that's part of the vast stupidity she's referring to. But it's also stupid to be living beyond any expectation of usefulness or pleasure, maintained by a retinue of doctors, nurses, home aides, and well-meaning aging children who travel great distances to keep her company.
It's really stupid that my last words to my father were "Don't worry, Dad. The bills are paid." It's stupid that those are the words that allowed him to finally let go. He died a couple hours later.
It's stupid that my quirky-smart father never got a chance to write down his curious thoughts and stories. He was too busy paying and losing the damn bills. It's stupid that my whip-smart, vivacious mother is crippled by a brain that is literally dammed and a body that doesn't really work, though "she has the vital signs of a teenager," as the nurses tell us brightly. It's stupid that when we remind her of the PhD she earned at a time when other women stayed home with the kids, her brilliance as a teacher, her stunning success as a financial adviser, she has not a flicker of memory for these accomplishments.
My mother is right. All of this is really, really stupid.